On The Presidential Election April 2, 2004.
As America moves toward the presidential election, I look back on the democratic hopefuls who were vying for the top position, and am struck by one depressing question: is this the best America has to offer? Theoretically, the person we choose to represent the interests of a nation is supposed to be the best and brightest of those who inhabit that nation. If this is actually the case, it is a sad reflection of the population’s abilities.
Obviously, this is not an observation that applies strictly to the U.S., but rather a problem shared by many countries. It is just that at this moment in time, where Bush Junior has shown himself to be a particularly poor example of what is needed and desired in a leader, the other potential candidates failed to shine by comparison. One would think that after enduring Bush’s presidency, anyone with even mediocre abilities would appear to be markedly superior. I am not saying that Kerry isn’t an intelligent and resourceful individual, but are he and Bush the two greatest minds America possesses?
Man is a social primate, so we have always functioned as groups governed by leaders. Originally, this would have been under the Alpha male, the physically strongest and most dominant personality in the group; an individual respected by his peers. Amongst primates, as long as the Alpha retains the respect of the group he remains leader. We see older Alpha males, who could be usurped by younger and stronger individuals, still in charge because the role itself is intimidating, and until he demonstrates consistent weakness in the position, competitors are more likely to act the part of devoted supporters.
Man in particular gradually evolved a higher level of intelligence, and consequently our increasingly complex societies required a different sort of leader; one where intelligence, wisdom, and knowledge replaced strength and sexual prowess. Naturally, sexuality is still a significant aspect of leadership, and the common human desires an attractive (physically or symbolically) Alpha. ‘Attractive’ is a subjective term, and the power wielded by an Alpha imbues him with a level of desirability that would not exist otherwise. Just as convicted serial killers are inundated with marriage proposals because their status as a “super-predator” awakens sexual instincts in women, a leader amongst gregarious predators - which humans are - is perceived as the best of our kind.
The demeanour of people when around a leader closely parallels that of all other primates; from the wish to be close to or touch our ideal, to the flirtatious or submissive displays made by females. We may possess advanced reasoning skills, but our base social-animal behaviour is encoded into our DNA. Modern society may truly require leadership of a more intellectual fashion, but we will continue to see men such a Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger attain positions of power simply because they are known for their portrayals of physically dominant, aggressive characters.
Size and strength, as well as the cunning necessary to be a good hunter, made up the typical leader amongst primitive humans. Since the Alpha male accounts for fifty percent of all the mating done in primate groups, his traits are promoted within the gene pool; consequently humans, who began as creatures only one metre tall, progressively increased in stature. The sharper mind of the efficient predator was exemplified in the advances made by subsequent generations.
In contemporary society, the leader is no longer tasked with the duty of attempting to impregnate all of the females. Of course, Alpha males still have more sexual opportunities than other males, and some presidents have appeared to be trying to live up to their ancient predecessor’s accomplishments, but regardless of the fact that a modern leader is not directly responsible for our genetic future, the role still symbolises the human ideal, and the evolutionary path we would normally follow. Considering the overall steady decline in human intelligence, and judging by some of the idiots who govern nations all over the world, the pattern would seem to be consistent.
We have made some progress over the ages. Counter to our primate instincts, women have been elected, albeit rarely, to govern nations. A few benevolent and peaceable leaders have appeared sporadically over the course of history. However, for the most part the status quo holds true, and far more often than not, it is the opportunistic and ruthless male who gains power.
Contrary to that which we wish to believe about ourselves, the majority of people are rather superficial and self-absorbed creatures. Most of us cannot or will not evaluate the potential worth of a particular candidate, so we allow others to do this for us. We listen to media “soundbytes”, read opinionated newspaper articles, and watch partisan television commercials in order to form our beliefs.
American politicians have come to rely on the fact that it is the show and not the substance that matters. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on a presidential campaign, not only virtually eliminating any competition from candidates who are not phenomenally wealthy, but also those who will not compromise their moral values by incurring a political debt from having corporations fund their campaigns. As we so frequently see, government contracts tend to be awarded to companies closely linked to the winners, and key figures in industry receive choice political appointments.
Most nations use systems that almost guarantee the people are only offered a choice between very similar candidates. All major political parties are controlled and funded by the same sorts of people. It is primarily the elite of society: owners of corporations and caretakers of “old money”, who obviously, having reaped the rewards of the status quo, are adverse to change. Regardless of the ideology each candidate promotes while campaigning, we always end up with basically the same government. The cycle of economic highs and lows, which would likely occur at exactly the same frequency despite our choice of leader, continues on. The gap between rich and poor widens with every administration. Almost every president attacks at least one virtually defenceless country in order to demonstrate his aggressive nature, and affirm his Alpha-primate status; and the public, being true to its predator roots, subsequently boosts his popularity in the polls.
Not everyone behaves as a simple herd animal, blindly following the direction of those who they perceive as being higher in the pecking order, accepting that the choices offered are not really choices at all, and identifying with a leader who preys upon the weak in a sexual display of dominance; but the large majority are this way. I have always insisted that people must make the effort to vote, but perhaps a caveat is necessary, in that an effort should be made to put some thought into why you have chosen to cast your ballot for a particular candidate; otherwise, an unthinking vote may offset a considered one.
In terms of electing politicians, “majority rules” in most countries of the world. The majority, however, votes according to which party or candidate has done the best job of manipulating public opinion. Most people have very short attention spans, and equally short memories. Political figures trust that their indiscretions and crimes will fade from the public consciousness by the time they are due for re-election; and such is almost always the case. Bush Junior’s legacy contains little in the way of positive effects, and an overwhelming number of negative ones in terms of economic, social, and international impact. Hence, his handlers must attack Kerry personally, being that there is nothing Bush has done that is untainted by incompetence.
As should be obvious, ethics have little to do with mainstream politics. There are sometimes fringe candidates who seem to be refreshingly idealistic, and people will vote for them based on their own moral convictions, even though it is apparent that the aspirant lacks the resources to compete against the two big parties. Normally, voting according to one’s values is appropriate, and perhaps one day someone other than a Democrat or Republican will win, but probably not in the foreseeable future, and certainly not this election.
There are times when it is necessary to vote strategically, rather than ethically. For instance, if the goal is to ensure that Bush never does win an unadulterated presidential election, then the practical choice is to vote for a person who has a realistic chance of winning; so even if you despise Kerry, it would still be difficult to imagine him as anything other than the “lesser of two evils”. It does not matter if a majority of the ballots in a particular region are against Bush unless they are a majority for one specific opponent; hence voting against the incumbent is not enough to guarantee his defeat.
Certainly, the electorate must learn to vote with foresight and ethical conviction, ignoring propaganda intended to manipulate them into choosing those favoured by industry and aristocracy; after all, a leader is selected to meet the needs of the people in general, and not a select few. However, there will be times when the objective must be to prevent the wrong individual from wielding power, rather than allowing the right one to achieve it. Almost two-thirds of the German public initially voted against the Nazi Party, but the popular vote was spread amongst too many opponents; undoubtedly, in hindsight, Germans would have consolidated their support behind one, and saved the world from tremendous suffering.
This may be an extreme parallel to draw, but perhaps it is not. One must judge a man by his deeds, and portend the future from the lessons of the past. Bush Junior has enacted laws and committed acts eerily similar to those of the Third Reich. In Hitler's first term in office, he responded to a terrorist attack committed by a Dutch radical by instituting homeland security measures granting government the power to seriously infringe upon the rights of the citizens. A person's appearance or religion became cause for arrest or harassment. Despite the decisions made by the League of Nations (precursor to the UN), Germany invaded the Rhineland, and then joined in an alliance to attack Spain and impose a system of government like Germany's own.
Shortly after he was first elected, Hitler made a term of four years between elections the law; we are all painfully aware of how he began his second term.